John Christofilis sat powerless in a walking boot, protecting the big toe on his left foot.
That toe stripped him of what he loved to do, and that is play basketball. The nagging turf toe injury put the hot-shooting guard for the O’Dea High boys basketball team in another painful position — watching as his Irish teammates streaked impressively to a Class 3A state title last season.
The 6-foot-4 Christofilis did his best to mask the pain inside, cheering for his teammates and even running in his boot during the euphoria of the state-title celebration after a 70-39 victory over Mt. Spokane.
The pain in his foot wouldn’t subside, even after the season was over.
“When there’s times of down, if you will, there’s always a bright side,” said Christofilis, now a junior. “In my case, seeing my team win a state championship was the best thing that could’ve happened at the time. Right now, I want to help repeat that and we’ve got to do it again.”
Christofilis opted for a late March surgery with renowned foot and toe surgeon, Dr. Robert Anderson, a team physician with the Green Bay Packers.
“It was kind of a shock to me,” Christofilis said. “I didn’t know it was going to get to that. I’m thankful of where I’m at today.”
Anderson has operated on pro stars Steph Curry, Cam Newton, Blake Griffin and Richard Sherman. Christofilis got a referral from his uncle, Dr. Neil Roberts of ProOrtho of Seattle.
The Irish starting wing missed six months and was cleared to start training again in August. He missed his AAU summer season with Washington Supreme, but this winter he’s almost back to the peak of his powers.
“I feel great,” said Christofilis, a three-star prospect who hopes to play NCAA Division I basketball and has offers from Washington, Portland and San Diego. “Knock on wood. I think the surgery went really well, and I’m thankful that I’m healthy and able to play at this point of the season. After about two months of full-go, it felt really good.
“I’m extremely grateful to Dr. Anderson and his staff and my uncle for sending me to Green Bay.”
Christofilis, whose father Dino was a hoops standout at Lakeside from 1986-90, is back doing his part on the floor as O’Dea (21-5) hopes to complete a postseason run with another title. The seventh-seeded Irish play Thursday in the Class 3A state quarterfinals at 2 p.m. against the winner of the Wednesday matchup between Seattle Prep and Mt. Spokane.
“Being on a state-championship team was great and the experience was awesome,” said Christofilis, who is rated the No. 6 junior in the state according to 247Sports.com. “I am so happy for the team and O’Dea, obviously, but it’s time. I want to be a part of a state-championship team while playing.”
The numbers show his growth and dedication to the game after earning a reputation as a three-point specialist. Christofilis contributes 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals a game to go with his 45% shooting from three-point range and his 88% free-throw accuracy.
“He’s just a basketball player, and he loves anything to do with basketball,” O’Dea assistant coach Ryland Brown said. “It’s been fun to watch him grow in all facets of the game, defensively, making the right pass, rebounding and being a great teammate.”
Five things to watch
Crusaders turn?: Is this the season Eastside Catholic (23-3, RPI No. 1) breaks through and gives the school its first state title in boys basketball? The Crusaders lost to eventual champion and Metro rival O’Dea 49-41 last season in the state semifinals and settled for third place.
Metro, Metro, Metro: Metro League schools have won the past eight Class 3A state titles and with five strong entrants, it is going to be hard for the rest of the state to end that streak. No. 1 Eastside Catholic, No. 4 Garfield (22-4), No. 7 O’Dea (20-5), No. 9 Seattle Prep (22-5) and No. 13 Rainier Beach (17-9) give Metro plenty of punch. Metro has put five teams in the Tacoma Dome four seasons in a row.
Under the radar: Led by combo guard Malakhi Knight, Marysville-Getchell reached state play in the Tacoma Dome for the first time in its nine-year history. Knight, a junior, averages 26 points a game and almost 10 rebounds and has 1,523 points in his career.
Top recruits: The boys field has some of the best talent in the state, led by O’Dea 6-9 junior Paolo Banchero (22 ppg, 10 rpg), a five-star recruit. Other top talent includes seniors Tari Eason of Garfield and juniors Tyson Degenhart of Mt. Spokane and Nolan Hickman and Shane Nowell of Eastside Catholic.
Rose rising: Kyson Rose, a 6-9 senior, came alive for a school-record 46 points for Kamiakin in a Jan. 21 victory over Hanford. The Central Washington commit added 17 rebounds.